An independent research institute that pushes for social justice is calling on the Nova Scotia government to cancel its $84 million energy rebate program. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says the money should be used instead to help 75,000 Nova Scotians who live in poverty. The suggestion is one of many contained in the CCPA’s 10th annual Alternative Budget released today at the Nova Scotia legislature.
“We were surprised at the amount of money that has actually gone into the energy rebate program,” says Christine Saulnier, the CCPA’s Nova Scotia director. “When the NDP introduced it, they said it would cost $15 million in the first year and $30 million in the second. The second year actually cost $84 million.”
The energy rebate program is designed to offset the rising costs of home heating and electricity, but Saulnier says the money should be re-directed to those who need it most, welfare recipients who live well below the poverty line.
“We really think people who are turning to the government for assistance should not be living below the poverty line,” she says. “It’s shameful that the government, when people are coming to them, is giving them less than the bare minimum to make ends meet.”
The CCPA estimates it would cost just over $65 million this year to start a five-year program to raise welfare rates gradually to the poverty line. Its Alternative Budget calls on the government to spend an additional $8 million to fund basic telephone service for welfare recipients and $19 million to allow them to keep more of their income if they find work. Under present rules, 70 percent of such earnings are deducted from welfare cheques. The Alternative Budget says $5,000 in annual income should be exempt from the claw-back and welfare recipients should be able to keep 30 percent of their remaining earnings.
As for the energy rebate program, Saulnier says it sends the wrong message. "We need to be encouraging people to be using less electricity,” she says. “We need to be relying less on carbon and oil and thinking about climate change more. To have an energy rebate program does the opposite."